Hell is [Dating] Other People

“Hell is other people,” according to the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, and if he were alive now, he most likely would have been referring to online dating.

I have a bad habit: I judge myself through the eyes of the men I date. Sartre knows what I’m talking about, don’t you, Sartre?

Sartre knows exactly what I’m talking about.

R was one of the first. He was a tall, blue-eyed lawyer that could charm free drinks out of a waitress with an easy smile. I was the moon, basking in his charismatic glow. After our second date, he whisked me to his place — through the glossy lobby of his apartment building, up to his swanky one-bedroom apartment. Living with two roommates on a pittance of a salary, I felt out of my element. I googled his employer the next day, trying to gauge how much he made. I saw the salary listed next to his job title on Glassdoor and paled. What was I doing with my life?

The next was N. With his low, steady way of talking and quiet confidence, I could feel myself clinging to the idea of him after the second date. “He’s a doctor,” I told my mom proudly. “Ooh, that sounds good,” my mom responded, finally approving of my life choices. I was unhappy at my job and my self-esteem had been on a downward trajectory for over a year after a falling out with one of my closest friends. If I could date him, my friends would be impressed. My ex-friend would be jealous. I didn’t think the actual words, but I felt them.

Then there was H, the German lawyer. He was the most attractive guy I had dated and his goofy awkwardness made him all the more appealing. He lived in my building and we ran into each other often. “What should I text him?” I harassed my poor friends, as though the right combination of words would prevent the inevitable fade. I wanted his attention, without considering whether or not we were the best fit and ignoring the fact that our conversations felt forced.

With C, I knew my problem was out of control and it was time for a change. C was another doctor. Sense a pattern here? He was sharp and cute in a boy-next-door sort of way. With his tired eyes, he complained about always being busy and exhausted. Once, he asked me how my day went. I told him I went for a run and did yoga. When he sighed and wished he had time for that, I felt embarrassed. We both lived in studio apartments, but his was much bigger. When he said he would like to see my place, I warned him that it was tiny, as though I lived in a hovel out in the woods. I was perfectly happy with my homey little hovel, both before and after him. So why was I ashamed of it in that moment?

I chased after these guys to divert attention away from what I thought were my deficiencies. I wasn’t making enough money, I wasn’t living that jetset lifestyle, I had lost a close friend. If I could date them, if I could have them… Then maybe I could feel happy and accomplished and proud of myself. And maybe my friend would miss me and want me back. These men were proxies for living what I perceived as a successful adult life. And I couldn’t see past what they represented to the human beneath.

In pursuing them, I downplayed my own strengths. I didn’t forgive myself for not having everything together while overlooking the flaws of these so-called “perfect” men. Everything but their professional successes and achievements faded into the background — the good, the bad, and the ugly. R was in remission from cancer and was in no place to seriously date. While I enjoyed my conversations with N, he was a bad kisser and had terrible self-esteem. H was sweet, but his life was unstable and he was just looking to hookup. C ghosted on me after four dates. He apologized a month later, long after I came to the realization that we never would have worked out.

After C, I made it a point to meditate daily, trying to understand what I needed to heal the deep rifts of insecurity within me. I was seeking happiness and validation in the external rather than fostering the conditions that would allow me to create and hold these emotions within myself. I was lazy and scared. I thought that if I dated someone who was successful, I wouldn’t have to achieve my own goals, I wouldn’t have to try to be an artist or a writer or a scientist and face the possibility of failure and mediocrity.

I’m still learning, still struggling, to be who I am without judgment. I have a date this week with a great guy. We’ll see how it goes.